New law censuring certain online content could restrict free expression

Expression

A new law has caused concern among civil society organisations because of its potential impact on freedom of expression online. The law aims to fight hate and discrimination; however, some of the provisions do not comply with international standards on safeguarding freedom of expression. Of particular concern is that the law requires service providers to block online content considered "acts of discrimination, hate, insults, threats or incitement of violence". Given that service providers will have such control over content and be responsible for determining what to censor, a group of civil society organisations issued a statement of concern, asserting that:

"The disproportionate censorship of content and information on the Internet puts at risk the exercise of the freedom of expression of activists, human rights defenders, opponents and the Honduran population in general, which is fundamental to the existence of a democratic society". 

In a separate incident, on 29th January 2018 the national-level police's legal representative requested that the Public Ministry investigate three Associated Press journalists over a report published in 2013 which the police have deemed defamatory. The journalists had reported on alleged involvement of the police in helping drug cartels in smuggling operations.

In addition, Comite por la Libertad de Expresion en Honduras (Committee for Freedom of Expression in Honduras) reported two cases in which police officers attacked journalists as follows:

  • On 27th January 2018, Orlando Sierra, a journalist working for Agence France-Presse, was injured during a police crackdown on a protest.
  • A police officer attacked journalist Ely Vallejo during a women’s protest on 25th January. The officer demanded he leave the park where he was watching the march. When the journalist refused, the police officer physically attacked him while other officers looked on without intervening. 

Association

On 27th January 2018, Bartolo Fuentes, a former member of congress from the main opposition party, and activist Dunia Montoya reported that four police officers had threatened them and their family in their home after they had returned from a protest. One of the officers reportedly pointed a gun at the family. One of the officers present at this attack is currently facing charges for attacking Montoya in 2015.  Due to the threats, both Fuentes and Montoya were recently placed within the state mechanism for protecting human rights defenders.

Peaceful Assembly

As reported on the Monitor, protests erupted in the country after the presidential election and have continued after President Juan Orlando Hernandez's inauguration. There have been reports of police using excessive force against protesters. In addition, local organisation Comite por la Libertad de Expression reported that on 5th February, Ismael Hernández was killed during a protest in Choloma. The Committee also reported that a student protest in front of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras was dispersed with tear gas by the police.  

On 31st January, police opened fire against a group of activists from Movimiento Popular para la Defensa del Medio Ambiente (Popular Movement for the Defense of the Environment) protesting against the building of a hydroelectric plant on their ancestral lands. Two of the protesters were injured when police fired on the group. The Movement issued a statement declaring the construction project a violation of "the rights of indigenous peoples [and] a harmful project for the communities that live around the Petacón river basin".

Honduras is currently on the Monitor Watch List of countries where there is an urgent, immediate and developing threat to civic space.